Running to the Noise

Oberlin College & Conservatory

When First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to the graduating class of Oberlin College and Conservatory in 2015, she encouraged students to embrace Oberlin’s history and run to the “noise”— those challenging, contentious situations that threaten to divide us.


As the first college in America to officially embrace the admission of black students, and the first co-ed school to grant bachelor’s degrees to women, Oberlin has been Running to the Noise almost since our inception. And that’s just what we’ll do in each episode of our podcast, hosted by College President Carmen Twillie Ambar.


President Ambar will talk with all manner of interesting and influential people on and off our campus who are tackling some of the world’s toughest problems, working to spark positive change for everyone.

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Society & CultureSociety & Culture

Episodes

Getting Real About TV with Emily Nussbaum
Jul 11 2024
Getting Real About TV with Emily Nussbaum
For Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Emily Nussbaum ’88, it all started with a TV show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When the cult hit first aired in 1997, Nussbaum, then a literature doctoral student, watched it like anyone else. However, it was love at first bite: Buffy would consequently alter her entire career trajectory.  “I wanted to abandon the old method of you can only praise TV in the most condescending possible way, by sort of patting it on the head and saying, “Good for you, TV. You did something good.” I actually wanted to have high standards,” says Nussbaum. With an English major and creative writing minor from Oberlin, Nussbaum has written for the New York Times, New York Magazine, and The New Yorker. Her latest book, Cue The Sun!: The Invention of Reality TV, chronicles the history of reality TV and explores the genre’s vast sociopolitical implications — from how The Apprentice led to Trump’s presidency to the questionable ethics of the dating show.Ahead of the book’s June release, Nussbaum joined host and Oberlin College and Conservatory President Carmen Twillie Ambar to discuss reality TV’s complex history and its complicated role in our culture, and why Nussbaum fell in love with television.  Running to the Noise is a production of Oberlin College and Conservatory and is produced by University FM.Episode Links:Emily’s websiteAuthor page at The New YorkerIs “Love Is Blind” a Toxic Workplace?
More than Music with Rhiannon Giddens
Jun 6 2024
More than Music with Rhiannon Giddens
In an industry that loves to put artists into neatly defined boxes, Rhiannon Giddens refuses to be pigeonholed. Trained as an operatic soprano at Oberlin College and Conservatory, the 2000 graduate moved back home to North Carolina, picked up the fiddle and fell in love with old-time banjo.Her eclectic folk music has taken her into every imaginable space. She has won two Grammy Awards, a MacArthur Genius Grant, and the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for the opera Omar based on the autobiography of an enslaved Muslim man. A proud, mission-driven artist, Giddens is committed to shining a light on people whose contributions to America’s musical history have been overlooked or erased. And she uses her spotlight to highlight the banjo's roots in Black culture.William Quillen, the dean of Oberlin Conservatory, calls her one of the most important creative and artistic voices of our time. A founding member of the all-female banjo supergroup, Our Native Daughters, Giddens has also published children’s books, has written and performed music for the soundtrack of Red Dead Redemption 2, one of the best-selling video games of all time.She appeared on the ABC hit drama, Nashville, and throughout Ken Burns’s country music series on PBS. And most recently, she received a Grammy nomination for her 2023 album, You're the One, and played banjo and viola on Beyonce's TEXAS HOLD ’EM, a global number one hit and the first song from a Black woman to top Billboard's Hot 100 country songs chart.Before delivering Oberlin College and Conservatory’s 2024 commencement address, Giddens sat down with Running to the Noise host and Oberlin president Carmen Twillie Ambar to discuss her genre-defying career, navigating the music industry, and smashing musical barriers.  Running to the Noise is a production of Oberlin College and Conservatory and is produced by University FM.Episode Links:Rhiannon Giddens Oberlin Commencement Speaker AnnouncementRhiannon Giddens - “At The Purchaser's Option”Rhiannon Giddens website“With Her First Opera, Rhiannon Giddens Returns to Her Roots” | The New York TimesOmar, by Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels
How Black Women College Presidents Are Blazing the Trail for Future Generations
May 9 2024
How Black Women College Presidents Are Blazing the Trail for Future Generations
In this month’s special episode of Running to the Noise, host and president Carmen Twillie Ambar, the first Black chief executive in Oberlin’s nearly two-century history, talks with three other trailblazers about the challenges and the joys of being the first Black women to lead their long-standing institutions. Joining her are Joanne Berger-Sweeney of Trinity College, Lori White of DePauw University, and Danielle Holley of Mount Holyoke College.They are members of a small, proud group: Black women presidents make up 1.6 percent of the leadership of predominantly white four-year colleges and universities in this country. The inauguration of Claudine Gay, the first Black president of Harvard University in the institution's 388-year history, was a cause for celebration. Her resignation six months later, in January of this year, marked a painful end to a historic appointment. President Ambar and her guests explore the implications of Gay’s departure; why it's more important than ever to lean into diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts on campus; the many things to love about their groundbreaking roles; and how their tenures can serve as inspiration to future generations of young women of color.And they might even sing a little Aretha while they’re at it.Running to the Noise is a production of Oberlin College and Conservatory and is produced by University FM.Episode Links:Joanne Berger-Sweeney | Trinity CollegeDanielle Holley | Mount HolyokeLori White | DePauw University“Now Is the Time for Hard Decisions” by Shirley Collado and La Jerne Terry Cornish “The Cost of Leading While Black” by Sean Decatur
What it Means to be a Woman in Power with Stephanie Rawlings-Blake
Apr 4 2024
What it Means to be a Woman in Power with Stephanie Rawlings-Blake
During her six years as the mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake wasn’t afraid to ruffle feathers to do what she thought was right for her city, a lesson she learned from her father, Howard “Pete” Rawlings, a child of Baltimore public housing and one of the most powerful political leaders in Maryland. He taught her that popularity and polls didn’t matter—it was the person in the mirror she had to answer to.Before stepping into the mayor’s office, Rawlings-Blake was the youngest person ever elected to the Baltimore City Council—just three years after graduating from Oberlin in 1992, a feat that earned her the nickname “Council Girl” from an older colleague looking to put her in her place. She’s also the first and only Black woman to serve as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Now, she's heading up Airbnb's newly formed housing council — a collection of experts convened to advise the company on how it can help solve one of America's most pressing problems: the affordable housing crisis. Rawlings-Blake joined Running to the Noise host and Oberlin College and Conservatory President Carmen Twillie Ambar to talk about her eventful tenure as Mayor of Baltimore, how to ignore the polls and survive sexist critiques, and why she’s partnering with Airbnb to tackle the country’s housing shortage.Please note: President Ambar spoke with Rawlings-Blake three weeks before a massive cargo ship plowed into Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, killing six. The former mayor appeared on MSNBC to react to the tragedy she called “devastating.” Listen to her commentary here.Running to the Noise is a production of Oberlin College and is produced by University FM.Episode Links:Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at OberlinOberlin Alumni Magazine profile Spring 2015 Baltimore Sun Obituary for Howard “Pete” RawlingsSBR Voted one of the Top 10 Best-Dressed Mayors (Vanity Fair) Airbnb’s new housing council
The Fearlessness and Faith of Documentary Filmmaking with Shane Boris
Mar 7 2024
The Fearlessness and Faith of Documentary Filmmaking with Shane Boris
Producer Shane Boris didn’t set out to make Oscar-worthy documentaries. He wanted to tell stories that moved him, helped people make sense of the world—and inspired them to change it for the better.Through a chance encounter on an airplane soon after graduating from Oberlin College and Conservatory with a degree in politics, Boris built a successful career in filmmaking that has resulted in multiple Oscar nominations, including two in 2023 for the documentaries Fire of Love and Navalny. The latter—about Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Putin’s fiercest critic and the country’s best hope for a democratic future—took home the award for Best Documentary. His films have premiered at festivals like Sundance and Venice, screened with museums including The Louvre and MOMA, received honors such as BAFTA and Peabody Awards, and were commissioned or acquired by distributors such as National Geographic, Netflix, HBO, and CNN. Recent films include: Hollywoodgate, King Coal, Stray, The Edge of Democracy, The Seer and the Unseen, and All These Sleepless Nights. In anticipation of the 2024 Academy Awards, Host and Oberlin College and Conservatory President Carmen Twillie Ambar invited Shane Boris to join her for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Navalny and Fire of Love and to talk about the importance of making political films like Navalny—a model for how to resist authoritarianism everywhere, including in our our country. The episode was recorded a week before the world learned Alexei Navalny had died in a remote Russian prison colony in the Arctic Circle at age 47.Episode Links:Films by Shane Boris (Cottage M)Navalny trailerFire of Love trailer
Restoring Trust in the Media in an Age of Disinformation with Peter Baker
Feb 1 2024
Restoring Trust in the Media in an Age of Disinformation with Peter Baker
Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for the New York Times, admittedly wasn’t the best student at Oberlin. He was so wrapped up in his dreams of becoming a journalist, he spent more time down at the campus newspaper than in his classes. But the work paid off. During his career, Peter visited Robben Island in South Africa with Nelson Mandela and once nearly knocked over the Queen of England during a press scrum at an international summit meeting.Following the attacks of 9/11, he was the first American journalist to report from Afghanistan where he embedded with troops as coalition forces fought the Taliban. During the US invasion of Iraq, he rode with the Marines as they drove toward Baghdad. Peter has covered the past five presidents, from Bill Clinton to Joe Biden. During a break from the White House, he spent four years in Moscow for The Washington Post, chronicling the rise of Vladimir Putin with wife Susan Glasser. The pair penned Kremlin Rising about Putin’s Russia and, most recently, co-authored the New York Times bestseller The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021.On this episode of Running to the Noise, Peter talks with host and Oberlin College and Conservatory President Carmen Twillie Ambar about the erosion of trust in the media,  the state of truth in America, and what he’s learned covering some of the most powerful men in the world.Episode Links:Peter Baker ’88 delivers the commencement keynote address to the class of 2021Peter’s bio and his latest work at the New York Times Peter on MSNBCThe Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021 by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser
The Radical Truth of Fiction with James McBride
Nov 30 2023
The Radical Truth of Fiction with James McBride
New York Times bestselling author James McBride took a circuitous route to becoming a great American novelist. A communications major at Oberlin College and Conservatory, he also studied jazz with Wendell Logan, the influential founder of Oberlin’s jazz department. After graduating in 1979, McBride went to Columbia Journalism School, then onto bylines in the Boston Globe, Rolling Stone, the Washington Post and People magazine.McBride left a successful career in journalism to “pursue happiness,” as he puts it: playing sax full time in New York. But his life took another turn when he penned a memoir about the person he loved most. The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother became an “instant classic,” in the words of one reviewer, and an accidental author was born.In this episode of Running to the Noise, McBride—whose new book The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store was recently named Barnes & Noble’s Book of the Year—joins host and Oberlin President Carmen Twillie Ambar to discuss his writing process, the path to authentic creativity, and the pursuit of happiness through art.About James McBrideJames McBride is the author of Deacon King Kong, a New York Times bestseller and Oprah’s Book Club selection; the National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird; the American classic The Color of Water; the novels Song Yet Sung and Miracle at St. Anna; the story collection Five-Carat Soul; and the James Brown biography Kill ’Em and Leave. The recipient of a National Humanities Medal and an accomplished musician, McBride is also a distinguished writer in residence at New York University.Show Links:NPR Review: (7-minute listen) James McBride's 'Heaven & Earth' is an all-American mix of prejudice and hopeJames McBride’s website
Repairing a Fraying Democracy with Richard Haass
Oct 26 2023
Repairing a Fraying Democracy with Richard Haass
Author and diplomat Richard Haass began his education at Oberlin College during a pivotal year for American democracy. It was 1970 and four college students were shot and killed at the neighboring Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard. This event propelled Richard into action as he and his peers filmed a documentary about Oberlin’s response to the shooting.After graduating from Oberlin in 1973, Richard continued to study American democracy and spent two decades heading the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan resource for American citizens across the political spectrum. Richard joins host Carmen Twillie Ambar, president of Oberlin College and Conservatory, to discuss his new book, The Bill of Obligations: The Ten Habits of Good Citizens, an invaluable roadmap to how we can begin to repair our fraying democracy. They also tackle tough questions of why our democracy has never before been so imperiled and how we can all work to strengthen it. Episode Quotes:On why this moment feels more critical for America than past times of conflict03:41 - “What's different now is what's at stake is the system itself, it's democracy itself. And the threat in that sense is much more fundamental. It's not simply about whether we should be doing what we're doing with Ukraine or abortion or this or that policy issue. It's much more fundamental. And people are beginning to do things that actually challenge the tissue, the fabric of American democracy, the system itself.”Richard’s views on the art and importance of compromise21:31 - “I'm not saying to compromise. I'm saying to stay open to it. It ought to be a choice. It ought to be something you consider. There might be certain situations where you say, well, if I compromise. Here are the consequences. So compromise may or may not be right for you under certain circumstances.”On the role higher education institutions should play in shaping citizens“I would think that one of the purposes of a college education, obviously we think about it to prepare people for life, and I would say here in the United States, one of our purposes ought to be to prepare people to be citizens in this democracy.”00:43 - “I have spent my career studying, practicing, writing about, and speaking on American foreign policy. And a question I frequently hear is, "Richard, what keeps you up at night?" Often, even before I get to answer, the person posing the question suggests potential answers. Is it China? Russia? North Korea? Iran, terrorism, climate change, cyber attacks, another pandemic? In recent years, I started responding in a way that surprised me and many in the room. The most urgent and significant threat to American security and stability stems not from abroad but from within. From political divisions that, for only the second time in U.S. history, have raised questions about the future of American democracy. And even the United States itself.”Show Links:Richard’s bio for the Council on Foreign RelationsRichard’s 1970 documentary on Oberlin’s response to the Kent State shootingsThe Bill of Obligations: The Ten Habits of Good Citizens
Using Your Platform For Good with Ed Helms
Sep 28 2023
Using Your Platform For Good with Ed Helms
Before he starred in hits like The Hangover trilogy and The Office, Ed Helms was an “Obie”—a kid from Georgia with talent for jazz guitar who found his way to Oberlin College. Since graduating in 1996, Ed has used his success and platform to open doors of opportunity for others and support causes he believes in.Ed, now on the Board of Trustees of Oberlin College, joins Oberlin President Carmen Twillie Ambar to talk about his time at the college, his work diversifying the writer’s room for his show Rutherford Falls, his new podcast SNAFU and how to use your platform to change the world (or even just a little slice of it).Running to the Noise is a production of Oberlin College and is produced by University FM.Our show music is composed and arranged by Bobby Ferrazza, Oberlin Conservatory professor of jazz guitar. Ferrazza is also director of the Oberlin Sonny Rollins Jazz Ensemble, the student group that performed the music. Episode Quotes:On the diversity of Rutherford Falls’ writer’s room14:38 - “Oberlin really helped me try to think and appreciate broader perspectives. And so, I felt like I had a solid understanding of that in this process on Rutherford Falls in getting deeper in a really casual and fun and oftentimes very funny setting, which was our writer's room, hearing and just being with the experiences of a lot of these writers from very different backgrounds and a lot of Native American writers … And so hearing them reflect to each other, reflect off of us, me, other writers from other backgrounds. It just deepened my appreciation and commitment to having different voices involved.”How Ed’s exploring history with his podcast SNAFU 26:51 - “There's so much history that is powerful and meaningful that has been lost or pushed aside, or just kind of maybe muddied because of whoever was the dominant storyteller at the time. And, you know, they say history's written by the winners. That's reductive, but true. And so it’s interesting to look, well, maybe the losers have some really powerful, meaningful stories.”On finding mentors 31:20 - “Just look for lots of people who are doing cool things around you, things that you admire, and then just study them a little bit. You don't have to know them. If you do, great, then you can ask them directly.”Show Links:Represent UsEd Helms: Gerrymandering is like…really badSNAFU Podcast